Port Norfolk Architectural Conservation District

This is not the text of the application for the Port Norfolk Architectural Conservation District, but it is a description of Port Norfolk.

AREA FORM from Boston Landmarks Commission prepared as part of 1994 Survey of Dorchester. Dated April, 1995 and recorded by Edward W. Gordon.

[Note: this reproduction of the information in the Boston Landmarks Area Form may have typographical errors, and for technical matters, the reader may want to consult a copy of the original, which is available at the Boston Landmarks Commission or the Dorchester Historical Society]

Architectural Description

Port Norfolk is located at the southeast corner of Dorchester. It is divided into two well- defined segments by the MBTA Red Line / Old Colony Railroad tracks. The segment on the west side of the railroad tracks is bounded by Neponset Boulevard on the west, Redfield Street on the north, the railroad tracks on the east and the back lot lines of Taylor Street properties on the south. The second and larger of the two segments is a peninsula bordered by Pine Neck Creek on the west, the Neponset River on the south and east and the railroad racks on the north. This area is primarily noteworthy for its relatively large collection of Greek Revival and Italianate housing. Although Port Norfolk’s mid 19th century housing retains integrity of siting and elements, it has, for the most part, been altered by the application of modern sheathing materials and changes to original form and fenestration.

During the second half of the nineteenth century, industrial sections evolved along the shores of the Neponset liver. Although the northern section (bordering Ericsson Street) retains a half a dozen structures associated with the old Putnam and Company Nail Works, the eastern industrial section is completely devoid of A.T. Stearns Lumber Co. buildings, but does retain significant remnants of granite block bulk heads associated with Laban Pratt’s lumber business. Port Norfolk possesses a modified grid plan; its streets tend to be lined primarily with 2.5 story upright and wing homes with both Greek Revival and Italianate detailing with the occasional Carpenter Gothic house with steeply – pitched gable and irregular plan and rectangular, L, or T-shaped Italianate / mansards with bell cast mansard profiles.

Representing a departure from the paradigmatic side-hall plan rule is 2 Lorenzo Street which exhibits an entrance in the center of a broad street facing gable. Its center entrance retains its saw cut scroll door hood and is flanked by octagonal panelled polygonal bays. Bordering the north side of Taylor Street between Rice and Oakman Streets is an interesting but altered collection of T and L-shaped Greek Revival/Italianate houses with the most substantial of the group located at the comer of Rice and Taylor Streets. 2 Rice Street is a gable fronted, side passage dwelling, its Greek Revival detailing includes the entry’s Doric pilasters, heavy Doric pilaster and entablature.

Woodworth Street, from an architectural and landscape perspective is the most interesting of the streets west of the rail road tracks at Port Norfolk. Noteworthy houses on the southwest side of Woodworth Street include: the 2.5 story T -shaped Italianate / Mansard at 22 Woodworth Street, with its encircling verandah and straight-sided mansard roof with its slate shingles intact; and the greatly altered, cottage scale, L-shaped carpenter Gothic house at 20 Woodworth Street (retains curvilinear barge boarding at eaves); 17 Woodworth Street is a 2.5 story, T-shaped Italianate house situated substantially below the grade of the street. Its 2-bay end wall gable faces the street. The prominent central gable bay is ornamented with cornice headed lintels, cornice returns and bracketed eaves. By far the most architecturally significant group of buildings in the area is 5, 7, 9, 11 Woodworth Street / 62, 64, 66 Walnut Street. Here, four unusually stylish Italianate / Mansard row houses stand contiguous with a three-story Italianate commercial structure numbered 62, 64, 66 Walnut Street. This commercial brick and brownstone component exhibits unusually formal surface treatments including corners and center pavilion set off by brownstone quoins.

Turning to the eastern segment of Port Norfolk it should be noted that the small triangular park bordered by Water, Redfield and Port Norfolk Streets provides a village common-like introduction to this section of Port Norfolk. The streets on the east side of the railroad tracks at Port Norfolk are bordered primarily by L and T-shaped, wood frame 2.5 story Greek Revival, Italianate and Italianate/Mansard houses which stand with narrow end wall gables facing the street. Walnut Street between Franklin and Water Streets possesses some of the oldest houses in Port Norfolk. The 1850 Dorchester Map shows 5 structures on the east side of this segment of Walnut Street. Particularly noteworthy is 83 Walnut Street, a 2.5 story, “upright and wing” house sited perpendicular to the street. It stands with narrow 2-bay end wall gables facing Walnut and Taylor Streets. Its main entrance is located at the center of its 3-bay southwest wall. This entrance opens on to a porch with original fluted Tuscan columns. Situated at the corner of Walnut and Redfield Streets is 102 Walnut Street, a 2.5 story front gable Italianate house characterized whose asymmetrical massing is set off by an encircling verandah. Franklin Street, bordering the railroad tracks is bordered by intact, L-shaped Italianate/Mansards at 12, 18 and 20 Franklin Street. 18 Franklin Street is noteworthy for the retention of its 19th century landscape features including granite block retaining wall and cobble stone pathway. A noteworthy exception to the typical single family, 2.5 story, wood frame dwelling rule in this area is 86/88 Walnut Street, corner of Franklin Street. This hip roofed, 9-bay x 4-bay multi-family building is constructed of brick, exhibits polygonal bays at its corners as well as at the center of its side walls.

Historical Description

Port Norfolk was called Pine Neck in the 17th century. During the 17th and 18th centuries Port Norfolk and Commercial Point to the north attracted mariners and fishermen. Pine Neck contained a pine-covered hill surrounded by marsh. Port Norfolk’s documented history in the seventeenth century is minimal largely because there were few, if any families living there. The Minot, Pierce and Tolman families all owned pasture lands on Pine Neck (Port Norfolk), maintaining their house lots in the Neponset area. The Edmund J. Baker Map of Dorchester and Milton of 1831 shows Port Norfolk devoid of housing. The coming of the Old Colony Railroad to Dorchester in 1844 opened Port Norfolk up to residential and commercial development. Luther Briggs, the noted mid 19th century architect was hired by Edward King, the president of the Neponset Wharf Company to survey and lay out lots along Pine Neck Road, now Walnut Street. This street was improved with 278 loads of gravel. Briggs went on to extend new streets on the neck including Fulton (Lawley St.), High (Port Norfolk St.) and Taylor St. Walnut Street was also extended and for a time was called Union Street. The present street system at Port Norfolk was more or less in place by 1859. Briggs is credited with the construction of several houses at Port Norfolk including his own Greek Revival house at # 20 Water Street (behind 118 Walnut St). Luther Briggs, Jr., was born in Pembroke, Ma. in 1822, son of a ship builder and descendant of generations of shipwrights. He was educated at a private school in Pembroke and later attended Hanover Academy. In 1839 he went to work as a draftsman for his uncle, Alexander Parris, Boston’s leading architect and engineer at that time. In 1842, Briggs left Parris’ office to work for another important Boston architect, Gridley J. F. Bryant. Bryant [or Briggs?] opened his own architectural office in 1844. Surviving drawings from the 1840s indicate that Briggs was interested in the picturesque, Gothic Revival architecture featured in the pattern books of A.J. Downing. Briggs moved to Port Norfolk, Dorchester in 1852. He spent the years 1852-1855 engaged in government contracts. Beginning in 1855, residential contracts increased and among his commissions was the Charles Jenkins House at 23 Park Street, Harrison Square. In the late 1850s and 60s Briggs designed primarily in the Italianate style. Widely employed in American domestic architecture from the 1840s through 1860s, the Italianate style, as popularized by Andrew Jackson Downing, was characterized by low-pitched, heavily bracketed roofs, asymmetrical informal plan, square towers (villa type) and often round arched and cornice headed windows. Briggs carried on an active architectural practice into the 1880s and served as a consulting architect until his death in 1905. Further research is needed to identify other Briggs-designed housing at Port Norfolk. The 1850 map of Dorchester indicates that members of the Trask, Hill, Spear, Clark, Costar and Moore families owned houses at Port Norfolk (as well as several other families whose names are illegible on the 1850 map). The east side of Walnut Street, between the railroad tracks and Water Street was pretty much built up with housing which is still extant including the Greek Revival house at 83, the Gothic Revival cottage at 93 and the Italianate house at 101 Walnut Street.

By 1874, 83 Walnut Street was owned by C.A. Southworth whose business is listed as “patent medicines”. The south side of Smith’s house overlooked Laban Smith’s [Pratt’s?] Wharf which was associated with a lumber business. The above ground remains of Pratt’s granite block shore line retaining walls and bulk heads are still extant and should be preserved within any future water front development on this site. By 1894, #83 Walnut Street was owned by an S. Worcester Hayden who owned a Port Norfolk based dry goods and grocery store located between Walnut and Taylor Streets. By 1898 #83 Walnut Street had been absorbed into Laban Pratt’s Lumber Co. This house remained Pratt property until c. 1920. By 1933, a William and A.G. Campbell (occupations?) owned this house, a survivor from Port Norfolk’s mid 19th century residential development.

Lumber merchant Laban Pratt owned 20 Franklin Street, an Italianate / Mansard house extant by 1874 and owned by Pratt until at least 1918. Pratt’s own residence was 102 Walnut, an Italianate house of irregular form prominently situated at the comer of Walnut and Water. Pratt owned this property from at least 1874 until the 1910s. By 1859,Pratt owned two wharfs: J. Lothan’s (sp?) and Cox’s Wharf. Between 1884 and 1894, Pratt built the double brick Queen Anne apartments at 86/88 Walnut Street on a portion of his house lot.

Isaac W. Bradbury lived in the ca. 1860 Italianate / Mansard at 12 Franklin Street. By 1884, John C. Dagget lived #12 while later owners included: Martha G. Taylor (1910s). Chauncy C. Hathaway, President of the N. Hathaway Co., 32 Charles St (Boston?-1920s) and Alessandro Balboni, lab worker (1930s).

The substantial Greek Revival residence at 5 Rice Street is another Port Norfolk house that was extant by 1850. It was owned by Henry Blanchard, physician, during the 1870s and 80s (and probably earlier since Blanchard was active in the local political scene during the 1840’s as an opponent of the Old Colony Railroad’s construction) while his heirs owned this house until at least 1910. Later owners included a Lulu F. Jones (1910s) and a Sarah Little (by 1933).

The Italianate / Mansard house at 17 Woodworth Street had been built by 1874 and the owner during the 1870s was restaurant owner Ira Bruce. An S. Meldrum owned this house during the 1880s, while Bridget Daly, widow of William Daly lived here from the 1890s until at least the 1910s and members of the Daly family lived here until at least 1933. 2 Woodworth Street was extant by 1874 and was owned by prominent Suffolk County figure Thomas F. Temple who was the Suffolk County Registrar of Deeds and was a vice president of the Old Dorchester Club which was incorporated in 1890 for “the promotion of acquaintance and social intercourse among the residents of Dorchester.” The club house building is still extant at the comer of Pearl and Pleasant Streets. Temple’s widow Sarah lived here during the 1910s.

Further research is needed on the unusually architecturally-sophisticated complex at 5 – 11 Woodward and the contiguous 62/64/66 Walnut Street. The Woodworth Street properties represent four Italianate / Mansard row houses with ornate trimmings which are attached to a high style Italianate business block along Walnut Street. The temptation is to attribute these well-designed buildings to the work of Port Norfolk resident Luther Briggs, but further research is needed here. These buildings were extant by 1874 and were all owned by the Dorchester Mutual Fire Insurance Company. This company owned 62-66 Walnut Street until at least the 1920s along with the row houses at 5 and 7 Woodworth. Early non fire insurance company owners included an Albert O. Smith (#9) and a Susan F. Davis (#11) in 1884.

The introduction of the Old Colony Railroad to Dorchester in 1844 bisected the Port Norfolk section and marks the beginning of industrial/commercial expansion along Port Norfolk’s Neponset River shore line. By 1850, two wharfs and several boat slips flanked the railroad tracks at their point of entry to Port Norfolk. According to the Taxable Evaluation of the Town of Dorchester for 1869, Taylor Street was lined with the lumber companies of Laban Pratt and Albert T. Stearns. Pratt’s business encompassed a counting room, stable, “lumber buildings” and two wharfs (all that remains of Pratt’s lumber business are granite block bulk heads and shore retaining walls). Both Pratt and Albert T. Stearns of Stearns Lumber Company are cited by William Dana Orcutt as being among “the several active businessmen who moved to Dorchester and did much to build up the easterly part of the town,” soon after the construction of the Neponset Turnpike.

The Albert T. Stearns Lumber Company, next door to Pratt’s company on the north, also has little physical evidence of a once thriving business with the noteworthy exception of the c. mid 19th century Greek Revival brick office structure at 98 Taylor Street. This structure is labeled “office” on the 1910 Atlas. The half dozen Stearns buildings that once stood across Taylor Street have all disappeared although several foundations appear to have survived amidst the underbrush.

Much more intact is the former Putnam Nail Co. / George Lawley & Son Inc. Shipyard buildings on the north side of Ericsson Street, including the 3-story, 4-bay x 25-bay red brick industrial structure currently housing Seymour’s Ice Cream at 12 Ericsson Street.

According to the l869 Taxable Valuation of the Town of Dorchester, Stearns’ Taylor Street business encompassed “an old counting room” (possibly # 98 Taylor Street?), lumber building, two stables, planing mill and counting room, dry-house, moulding room, a block of 5 tenements, a large shed and a wharf. It would seem likely that the currently vacant Stearns site on the water side of Taylor Street would provide fertile ground for archaeologists to yield significant below ground remains of the Stearns Lumber Co. which was thriving well into the 20th century. Stearns was among those who were called “the friends of annexation” when it became clear during the 1860s that Dorchester might soon be absorbed into the city of Boston. Steams was, in fact, on the Committee of Annexation and no doubt saw Dorchester’s inclusion within Boston’s city limits as being beneficial for his lumber business.

Finally the northern tip of the Port Norfolk peninsula has also been associated for many years with local industries. The General Isaac Putnam Nail Company began the manufacture of horseshoe nails at Neponset in 1860 and by 1869 was clearly located on Ericsson Street at Port Norfolk. In 1860, thirty- three tons were manufactured during the entire year; by 1890, nearly ten tons of nails were produced on a daily basis. According to the 1869 Taxable Valuation of the Town of Dorchester, the Putnam Nail Co. at what is now 12 Ericson Street encompassed a “Horse Nail and Curtain Fixture Factory”, Engine House, Blacksmith shop, Counting-room Building, 2 lumber buildings, a Dry-house, Oil factory building and store house, 5-tenements (presumably for company workers) and a 37.00 ft wharf along with marsh, beach and flats. The 1874 Atlas indicates that the Putnam complex encompassed 120,000 square feet of solid ground and 149,916 square feet of flats together with a large Nail Shop, Engine Room, machine shop, office, four stables and two unlabeled buildings. By 189,. a gas holder was situated on the Putnam premises. By l898, the Putnam Company encompassed 435,000 square feet. The Putnam Company property passed to the Magnesia Co. of Massachusetts during the early 1900s–property which included 19 buildings of stone, wood and brick along with the circular gas holder. The Magnesia Co. was a short-lived enterprise, replaced by 1918 by the well known George Lawley and Son Inc. Ship Yard. During the boom years of the 1920s, Lawley’s Boatyard was building beautiful yachts such as the “Yankee” of America’s Cup fame. By 1933, the Lawley Corporation encompassed 30 buildings. Today. Seymour’s Ice Cream occupies the large late-9th-century brick utilitarian building at 12 Ericsson Street. Further research beyond the scope of this survey is needed to identify structures from the Putnam, Magnesia Co. and Lawley periods. Clearly several small brick and granite buildings to the east and north of the main ice cream plant date to the mid 19th century. This property represents one of the most intact, historically significant industrial/commercial sites in Dorchester.

By 1904, Charles Cotting’s coal yard and Sheldon’s Boat yard joined other enterprises at Port Norfolk bordering the Neponset River (both of these concerns are no longer extant). During the early 1900s, the marsh by Pine Neck Creek had become a playground. About 1910, a bridge was constructed over the railroad tracks at Redfield Street. It was necessary to raise the level of Woodworth Street to facilitate the approach to the bridge.

The Hurricane of 1938 destroyed nearly all of Port Norfolk’s old trees, natural features which complimented and enhanced the picturesque qualities of Luther Brigg’s mid 19th century housing. During World War II LCI landing craft, rather than Bermuda racers were produced at Lawley’s Boatyard in three shifts a day. Railroad service to Port Norfolk was discontinued during the 1960s which together with the proximity to the Southeast expressway has rendered Port Norfolk as an isolated neighborhood cut off from the rest of Dorchester. On the other hand, such a distinct sense of boundaries may account for the relative stability of the neighborhood.

Statement of Significant

Port Norfolk

Considered eligible as a coastal community containing an interesting collection of Greek Revival and Italianate dwellings as well as an industrial complex associated with the mid-to-late 19th century Putnam Nail Co. and Lawley Ship Yard (12 Ericsson Street). The coming of the Old Colony Railroad to Dorchester in 1844 opened Port Norfolk up to residential and commercial development. Luther Briggs, the noted mid-19th-century architect was hired by Edward King, the president of the Neponset Wharf Company to survey and lay out lots along Pine Neck Road, now Walnut Street. Briggs went on to extend new streets on the neck including Fulton (Lawley St.), High (Port Norfolk St.) and Taylor St. The present street system at Port Norfolk was more or less in place by 1859. Briggs is credited with the construction of several houses at Port Norfolk including his own Greek Revival house at #20 Water Street (behind 118 Walnut St.). Particularly noteworthy is the unusual group of Italianate town houses at 5, 7, 9, 11 Woodworth Street which are contiguous with the Italianate Dorchester Mutual Fire Insurance Co. building at 62, 64, 66 Walnut Street. This area satisfies criteria A and C of the National Register of Historic Places. Port Norfolk is also recommended as an architectural conservation district.

Bibliography and/or References

Boston and Dorchester Maps/ Atlases-1794, 1830, 1850, 1874, 1884, 1894, 1898, 1910, 1918, 1933

Boston Directories: 1870-1945

Old Time New England, S.P.N.E A. Vol. LXVII. Nos. 3-4. Winter Spring 19777. Ed Zimmer article on Luther Briggs.

Boston University Study on Port Norfolk-l977. BLC files

W.D. Orcutt, Good Old Dorchester, 1893

Downing, A.J., The Architecture of Country Houses


Posted on

March 23, 2020